Journey to a Bestseller: Tell Me Everything YOU Need to be a Successful Writer (Series #46)

Hello all! First, I have two promos to share with you. They are both on Bookfunnel. Click on the photos to jump to the sale.

Today’s post is a casting net.

I need your input again authors. I’d like to do another question/answer series for the blog through October. First, I want to know all your questions about writing, editing, and publishing. Let me know if you have issues with pace or flow, if you can never remember where the comma goes, if you need help with world-building, or punctuation. Actually, since I’ve already written about those, follow those links and let me know what else you have issues with. Lol. Give me the things that you don’t know, aren’t clear on, or don’t understand how to relate to your own writing. Be as detailed as you want.

For example: I knew what the difference was between active and passive “writing” or “scenes.” But I never understood the technical differences. What exactly makes a sentence passive? What are passive words? When I broke it down to specifics, I understood that it isn’t just weak words in a sentence that make it passive. The difference is that active voice tells us “something happened,” while passive voice tells us “something has happened.”

Are you at a loss? Don’t know what to ask? Well, what are questions you would ask an agent if you could pick their brain? (Other than “Will you take my book?“) Lol. What is it that you don’t have a clear grasp of? What is a mystery to you in the publishing field? What have you always wondered? What do you really want to know? I can answer agent questions, as well as editor questions, and anything about publishing–traditional or indie.

So please respond to this post right now by either hitting the comments, or using the contact form, to send me those questions. I will gather them, sort them into posts with like questions, and use them as topics for a Q-and-A fest. I did this years ago when I was an agent, and got good responses.

If YOU don’t have a literary question, ask one for a friend. Maybe someone asked a question and you didn’t know the answer, or maybe someone said something about publishing that you don’t believe. Maybe you got a reply from an agent and can’t figure out what it means. It doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. The publishing world isn’t intentionally vague, the information is out there, but there’s so much to know, it’s impossible to absorb it all. Once you understand the game however, and how to play it, you can begin to take the right steps.

Being an “author” or a “writer,” whatever your preference, means being a student. I edit manuscripts and I was noticing an author the other day (not one of mine) who has twelve or so books published and is still making elementary mistakes with their writing. You learn so much just having the experience of writing a book, but the self-editing process should teach you things you didn’t know. If you knew it all already, you’d have written it perfectly the first time, of course. :^D

It puzzles me that a person can write twelve books and still be consistently making mistakes they should have learned by now. I think some of this comes from authors who hire editors right after their first draft. They never take the time to self-edit. But even if you just follow the editor’s advice, surely you’d notice, when you were making the changes, what was wrong and what was right. Right?

I don’t know how other people edit, but when I edit, I want the author to learn what went wrong and why, as well as how to fix it. It doesn’t do me any good to give you specific editing instructions for this book, and then have to do the exact same thing over again for your next book. Every time you write a book and correct those edits, you should be learning at least one new skill that will transfer over to the writing of your next book.

For example: If I inform you that dashes have no spaces–ellipses have spaces on both sides when in the middle of a sentence, and no spaces at the end of a word trailing off–I expect that your next novel will have the dashes and ellipses done correctly. Are you going to learn EVERYTHING and remember it all? Probably not, but there are some elementary things that I think writers need to get right, and if they don’t know them, they should have them on their list of things to learn. Do you have a mental or a paper list? How do you know what you still need to know? What’s your plan to learn as a writer, to get better with each book?

What is that thing you constantly get wrong in your writing? The bits consistently marked in red? That thing that makes steam come out of your editor’s ears? What have you been told by agents that you are querying? (There is kind of a code to their answers and they feel the answers are explanatory, when they may or may not be.) Give me all those questions. I want to help you. If you ask about an agent response, I will request you send me what you submitted to them as well.

I want to show you how to sit down and write the best story you’ve ever written and get opportunities you’ve never had before. To reach your dreams in publishing. If you have written twelve books and not learned the elementary steps, YOU are shooting yourself in the foot. If you have always wanted a Top 5 publisher, but you started with a small press, your writing skills should still improve with each book.

Your editing should get easier with each book. By the time you’ve published twelve books, I would hope that you would finally have grown enough as a writer to feel confident querying those Top 5 houses. Many houses will accept an unagented submission, and if they decide to buy your book, it’s easy then to find an agent to negotiate your contract. Remember, the agent’s biggest priorities are to edit your book, find a publisher they have connections with, pitch your book, and negotiate your contract. That’s not all they do by far, but those are the things you need an agent for. If you’ve already done the job of editing, pitching, and gotten a Top 5 offer for your book … that makes their life easier. It’s now a “sure thing” as opposed to the gamble they take bringing you in from the slush pile and hoping they can get you a great contract.

This is all stuff I’ve spoken about before. In fact, lately I find myself repeating a lot of information I’ve already gone over, as it applies to something else. Notice the links above to other, more descriptive posts. That’s why I want your questions. Don’t be shy. I won’t put your name on the question unless you ask me to. No one will know what you need to learn. I want to talk about some new things, but I don’t know which direction to go, which direction you NEED me to go.

Answering another question, I was explaining to an author the other day about why you don’t need (or want) an agent when you are going for a small publisher. It was an extremely long message and I would repeat it, but it’s already here in the blog. Somewhere. She was happy to find some new information, but it’s crammed in another post. Yeah, I need to take some time and retitle some of these blog posts to make it clearer what info you will find in the article. I will try to get that done soon.

Today’s post is short and to the point, and there is not much for you to learn this week–unless you click the links above. I have been swamped with manuscripts and just got one that needs to be done ASAP to put out for Christmas. So, I just keeping slipping farther and farther behind. I am a full week behind, as long as none of the manuscripts I just edited come back to me. I will probably catch up in the next two weeks. But by next week I should have some new topics to discuss on the blog.

I’d really like to get a full range of topics in all areas of writing, editing, publishing, and even marketing. I’d like a HUGE list that I can go to over the next several months. I am asking that you pass this on to other writers you know who may be struggling, or asking a lot of questions. Just in case you’re new to the blog and/or new to me, you might be asking, “Why does this woman think she knows any more about it than the average human?” Well, I did work as a literary agent for a few years, and though I left, I learned what I needed to know and how the publishing world works.

I know what agents and publishers are looking for and what they aren’t. I know how to query them and what their responses mean. I understand the slush pile and how to stand out. Then, after a back surgery, I didn’t have the time and ability to remain the agent I wanted to be, so I did some work in consultation. I took authors’ submission materials and helped them form an effective and smokin’ hot submission with which to query.

I now work as Associate Editor at TouchPoint Press. It is a small publisher* and I know quite a bit about the small press world as well as the big presses, also editing manuscripts to make them ready to publish. I am a judge for the annual Ink & Insights contest, and through it all, I have been growing as an author. With my first book (years ago), my agent signed me to a small publisher and I wasn’t happy with my sales, ranking around seven million. But when I took a year to learn about marketing, and discovered how to rank higher on Amazon, my publisher refused to allow me to make any changes. I had already done the hard work of researching and finding the correct description, categories, and keywords, but he told me that “technically” he owned the book. I bought back my rights (for $2,000–ouch!) and am now an indie author. You can see where I rank now for yourself. It makes me want to laugh. The WIP I have been documenting just got an invitation to revise and resubmit (also called an R&R) by an imprint of Macmillan. And the book I’m currently writing, I fully expect to take to a Top 5 house or imprint to publish. I have learned an insane amount in the last five years and I want to help other authors who may be afraid of the unknown. I want to help you make good publishing decisions and know what advice to take.

There is so much information out there. Who do you believe? Where do you seek answers? I am here to say you can trust me to help. I will explain the answers to your questions and why they matter. I try to unpack all aspects of my answers until it’s clear to all, often providing examples. So there you have it. Those are my credentials. If you are a fan of the blog, I hope you will help me out with my list of topics. And if you’re new to the blog, I’m excited for your questions, and I hope you also stick around to learn more with us.

*The Top 5 publishers are: Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Macmillan, Hatchette, and Harper Collins. These five publishers, plus their imprints, are considered the “big” publishers people think of when it comes to “traditional publishing.” They pay advances, most do, and have marketing departments to help you promote. Every other publisher out there is considered a “small publisher.”

If you are shooting for a Top 5 or imprint, you will need an agent to negotiate the contract. As I said, you are welcome to query the publishers directly (I know Macmillan takes unagented submissions), and then choose an agent to represent you, just make sure you have a great book that’s been edited and read by others. Any agent would be silly to turn down an author who has a guaranteed contract with a Top 5 publisher.

Otherwise, you must send out an abundance of queries to find the agent who believes you have the skill and they have the contacts to sell your book to a good publisher, then they pitch to those publishers for you. Kinda makes sense to go to the publisher first to see if they like the book enough to take it, but we are conditioned to get the agent first. (Though do NOT self-publish a book and then try to query agents with it. Publishers won’t take it unless you’ve sold a great amount of copies, so agents don’t usually bother. BUT if you’ve had amazing success, go for it!) Just remember, you do NOT need an agent for a small publisher. If I haven’t made it clear as to why elsewhere in the blog, let me know and I will explain it in detail.

Leave your questions below, or message me. I will take DMs and emails as well at: haskin.author@gmail.com.

Until next weekend,

Keep Writing!

~jenn

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